How did I come to have such an affinity for the city of Philadelphia?
The most memorable visit was when I went with my dad. He was attending a conference in the city, near the historic district with all the cobblestone streets and red brick buildings. Near the oldest house in America. I was 16 or so, left to spend the day wandering up and down the streets, stopping into shops and storefronts occassionally, but mostly just walking. Looking at row houses and skyscrapers.
I remember walking all the way down Broad Street, or maybe Market—whichever street goes East-West, passing the city hall. All the while I listened to my iPod, white cord dangling from my ear buds.
A friend had recommended I listen to a hip-hop group, Panacea. I wasn’t really a fan of rap and hadn’t spent much time trying to become one. But this group mixed live instruments with the samples and drum machines typical of the genre. It became the perfect soundtrack to my walkabout. Optimistic, bouncy, poetic.
I stopped to get a bagel with cream cheese. I went to the little movie theater that played indie films and saw the sci-fi space horror Sunshine by Danny Boyle.
Another time we went to the new constitution center, basically a museum about the founding fathers and all. I remember there was a nice gift shop and they sold certificate-like things that were all about surnames. My dad bought two, one of our last name and one of my grandma’s maiden name. (Maybe even a third, of my grandma’s mother’s maiden name.)
When I was in high school there was this ritual the older students had. One day, kids would skip class in order to race to Philadelphia and back. They’d cram into their cars—their parents’ cars—and drive up I-95 to Pat’s or Geno’s, order a cheesesteak, and then drive back. I don’t know how they knew who won, whether they had to bring the cheesesteak back whole or if the wrapper would do.
How many of them used printed maps back then? I remember poring over maps as a kid, on the road to visit family, on hockey trips. I was fascinated by the symbols, the meaning given to shapes and lines, especially when there was no legend.
I took a day trip to Philadelphia with my friend one day. We got a cheesesteak (Pat’s as I recall). We went to the art museum (this must have been after I moved back to DC to attend art school). It was so hot.
Sarah and I went and spent the weekend with our friend who was living there. Cars were parked on the curb. (It’s interesting to think back on something like how cars park on the street in different cities… the norms are different from one city to the next.) Compared to our neighborhood on the edge of a heavily-wooded city park, the green space was not impressive. Our biggest concern was green space. We wanted the best possible environment for our puppy to play and live.
We were giving Philadelphia an audition. Would this be where we started the next chapter of our life together? It would have been nice, to have multiple friends in the city. You could almost imagine other friends migrating to form a new hub.
But this is about earlier experiences, and that’s a story for another time.
One of the first hockey jerseys I had was an alternate Flyers uniform with teal. I don’t think the team ever wore it, I guess you’d consider it a fashion jersey or something. That jersey was just cool—Cooler than I was at least. I used to get catalogs for NHL apparel. I got snap up track pants with the Flyers logo too.
In Philadelphia I was autonomous, independent. Could that be why, all these years later, I have such strong feelings for it?